Should I Plant Wheat Early?

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I have recently had a few questions about how early wheat planting should start. With tobacco coming out of the field pretty quickly this year, growers are anxious to go ahead and put wheat into the field. However, I would warn against this.

Map of NC Wheat Planting Dates
The photo above is from the North Carolina Small Grains Production Guide and reflects the recommended starting dates for planting wheat. These are 7 days earlier than the date when there is a 50% chance of having a freeze. Beginning planting on these dates will allow for good fall tiller development, will avoid fall insect pressure (from Aphids, Hessian Fly, and more), and will reduce the chance of spring freeze damage.
Planting too early can also impact nitrogen use efficiency and yield potential. During the fall, the major tillers, called fall tillers are produced. Fall tillers are the biggest tillers, and therefore have the most impact on yield. When it turns spring, more tillers, which we call spring tillers, are produced. Wheat plants will use nitrogen to keep these spring tillers healthy. If there is not enough nitrogen in the system to support all of the tillers, the plants will abort the highest yielding fall tillers, which is not what growers want. If too many fall tillers are produced due to early planting, not only are the plants more susceptible to insect and disease infestations, but the plant will be unable to support the new spring tillers and the fall tillers will die, causing yield potential to go down.
So, my advice is to hold off on starting to plant wheat for as close to the suggested dates above (October 15-20) as possible. If you must start early, try to utilize later heading varieties for this early planting date to reduce the chance of spring freeze damage to emerging seed heads, and plan your nitrogen applications accordingly.
If you have any questions about wheat management, please feel free to reach out to me at the Person (336-599-1195) or Granville (919-603-1350) County Office or by email at